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How UTSA is investing in students to make a college education a reality - UTSA Today

How UTSA is investing in students to make a college education a reality

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AUGUST 18, 2021 — With Bexar County’s median household income hovering just above $57,000 per year, paying for a college education remains a major investment for students and their families across San Antonio. Guided by a commitment to make college more affordable, UTSA has had the lowest dollar increase in tuition and fees among all UT System institutions and Texas’ eight emerging research universities over the last five years.

To further address this continued community need and support student success, UTSA also sets aside substantial institutional aid funding to advance college-going and benefit its student population. In fact, 75% of UTSA’s undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid, with the university’s total aid and scholarship disbursement for fall 2021 estimated to top $300 million.

Several university programs are creating opportunities for students whose families otherwise may not have been able to afford a college education, but it doesn’t just stop there. There are also initiatives in place to provide guidance to students with financial need throughout their Roadrunner journeys.

Here’s a look at some of the ways UTSA is making the attainment of a college degree a reality for more students:

Bold Promise

UTSA welcomed its inaugural cohort of Bold Promise students last fall. The groundbreaking program involves a UTSA investment that covers 100% of a first-time freshman’s tuition and fees for four years if they meet certain criteria. Among them, Bold Promise recipients must be Texas residents, must have an annual family income of less than $50,500, must be ranked in the top 25% of their high school graduating classes, and must be enrolled as a full-time student (12 credit hours or more per semester) at UTSA.

Last fall, 959 students who were offered financial aid through UTSA’s Bold Promise program enrolled at the university, resulting in a total of $6.4 million in savings for the families of those high-achieving students. UTSA Senior Vice Provost for Strategic Enrollment Lynn Barnes Jr. said that his team’s goal is to grow the Bold Promise program through fundraising and philanthropy. After all, there remains a large unmet need for low-income families throughout the state to receive this kind of transformational financial assistance.

Bold Promise has not only changed the way that thousands of current UTSA students and incoming freshmen are paying for college, it has also had a dramatic impact on how low-income families across the Lone Star State are planning for the post-high school future of their children.

“When students hear about our Bold Promise program, it gives them hope—especially for those who thought there may not be another path forward,” Barnes said. “Having that certainty gave some reassurance to the public that UTSA, as a large public university, is doing its share and providing financial aid to as many students as possible.”

Grants and Scholarships

While loans and work-study positions are considered “self-help” aid, grants and scholarships are gifts that typically require no repayment. Although grants and scholarships aren’t unique to UTSA, the university has a uniquely large population that benefits from these kinds of financial assistance.

More than 11,000 undergraduate students at UTSA receive Federal PELL grants each year, meaning that 45% of the Roadrunners who obtain financial aid are PELL grant recipients. Another frequently offered grant at UTSA is the Toward EXcellence Access and Success (TEXAS) grant, which is offered to undergraduate students who are Texas residents, demonstrate financial need, and meet academic eligibility requirements. 

Of the students who demonstrate financial need by filling out the FAFSA, 70% receive need-based grants and scholarships at UTSA. The neediest students, who have a family contribution of zero, have 90% or more of their tuition and fees covered through grants and scholarships, provided they apply by the university’s application deadline and meet eligibility criteria for institutional and state grant programs. The university helps less needy students on a proportional basis.

In addition to filling out the FAFSA, new students are encouraged to fill out the general application in the UTSA Scholarship Hub, an online portal that shows what university scholarships are available and how to apply. The general application pools together several scholarships into a single application so students need only apply once. Scholarships are continually being added to the hub as they become available, so Barnes stresses the importance of checking back regularly to identify new scholarship opportunities that arise.

Student Success

Of course, obtaining a degree becomes more affordable when students graduate on time. Over the past several years, UTSA has launched initiatives to improve retention and success rates for first-generation college students and those from underserved communities.

The First to Go Graduate program, which debuted in 2016, develops and supports an institution-wide culture that actively recognizes and encourages first-generation college students, positively impacting first-generation retention and graduation rates. In 2017, UTSA launched the Resilience and Retention Advising Program, which utilizes intentional, proactive advising practices with students who are at high risk of dropping out of college.

The Student Success Center, an integral part of the Academic Success District, will open this fall as a key component of UTSA’s strategic plan to support each undergraduate student’s academic journey from start to finish. In particular, its primary aim is to improve first-year retention rates, second- and third-year persistence rates, and four- and six-year graduation rates. The new facility brought streamlined student success units such as Academic Advising, Academic Success Coaching, the LEAD and SOAR student success programs, and Transfer Transition Student Success Services together under one roof.

“These integrated services benefit our students’ ability to persist, eliminate barriers to success and ultimately graduate in a timely manner,” said UTSA Vice Provost for Student Success Tammy Wyatt. “By co-locating these programs and services, students will have easy access to resources that help them be successful—whether they are first-gen, first-year, transfer, or nearing graduation.”

Financial Wellness

The Office of Financial Aid Scholarships, in collaboration with Student Success, continues to develop its comprehensive Financial Wellness initiative with a goal of providing greater financial awareness and support to UTSA students. The initiative specifically focuses on low-income, first-generation students who have a greater need for individualized services during the recruitment process and as they transition to the university. Once those students arrive at UTSA, they benefit from continued monitoring and support to ensure they are successful.

The Financial Wellness initiative promotes responsible borrowing and fosters solid budgeting and money management skills. Through presentations and talks, students are guided to helpful resources and provided a robust picture of how to spend and borrow wisely.

“Our job as stewards of funding at a public university is to provide good counseling and advisement for students so that they can make the most of their resources,” Barnes said.